As well as being a travel writer, I’m also an avid runner. And believe it or not, I’ve found that there are some big similarities between the two.
I’ve found that building a successful travel-writing career is much like training for a long road race like a half-marathon. The early stages can feel bumpy and even instill a little self-doubt. Can I do this? Should I do this? Eventually, though, you build some success. The miles start feeling easy; your time keeps improving. Finally, race day arrives and you’re ready. You’ve put in the time. You know exactly what you need to do.
Writing is just like that. You train, it doesn’t always feel good, and you train some more. But you don’t relent, and there comes a day when you’re ready for the big pieces you’ve always dreamed of doing.
Here’s my suggestion for a “training regimen” that should get you on your way to confident travel writing success:
Warm-up 1: Read, read, read
Study good travel writing. Analyze the choices writers make: how they describe certain scenes, how they incorporate dialogue, and how they evoke a strong sense of place. If there’s a writer whose work you admire, send them a fan letter and ask if they have any tips to help you start your freelance career. You might be surprised at how willing some writers are to share their experience and know-how.
I’ve reached out to other writers in the past, and it’s only helped me. Several years ago, for example, I was contracted to ghostwrite an autobiography. It was the biggest writing project I’d ever taken on, and I was certain I had no idea what I was doing. I got my hands on a number of ghostwritten books, and one in particular stood out. I emailed the writer, and he sent back a wonderful note chockfull of good advice.
Warm-up 2: Start small and smart
Identify a few publications you’d love to write for and study how they’re put together. How are these titles structured? What kinds of stories do they use for columns and what gets dropped in the feature well? As an editor, there’s no greater sign that a freelancer hasn’t done their homework than when I’m pitched an idea for a story we recently published. It’s a bad start.
If you’re eying magazines, look at their front-of-the-book sections. These smaller departments can be hard slots to fill for editors. But they’re often good landing spots for new writers. Sure, every one of us dreams of that 4,000-word feature about some exotic destination in South America. First, though, you need to start with the smaller hits. Master the art of short writing and you’ll be that much closer to landing the big pieces.
Warm-up 3: Make the perfect pitch
Like the story itself, the query should be engaging. Write it how you’d write your story. Give it voice. Get the editor hooked so that he or she feels compelled to not just read your query but wants to read more of your work. Remember, you’re not just selling your article; you’re selling yourself as a writer and storyteller. Make a good impression, and even if you don’t get the assignment, you’ll put yourself on the editor’s radar screen for future work.
Warm-up 4: Respect your editor
Deadline extensions happen. But when working with a new editor or writing for a new publication, avoid having to ask for extra time on your piece. It sends the wrong message. So does a piece that comes in a lot longer than what your editor originally asked for. If the assignment was for 2,000 words and you turn in 3,500, you’re asking your editor to do the work you should have done. Build time into your writing process to let your piece sit for a day or two so you can come back at it with fresh eyes to tighten language and make any necessary cuts. You’ll often be amazed at the changes you decide to make.
Finally, don’t get defensive. It’s OK to explain why you made certain choices. It’s not OK to argue and come across like you know they’re publication better than they do. Chances are you don’t.